A Commentary on the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project’s Teen Night at DC General Homeless Shelter
Living in the state of stability and comfort is needed in the lives of all humans. It gives people the security and certainty of having control over their lives. Without both, most people can fall into a state of mind of hopelessness, constantly being anxious and the desire to give up. Unfortunately, with there being over 41% of DC residents who are homeless and in poverty, most have not felt an ounce of comfort for years and have lost the idea of what “being stable” means.
Being a native of Washington, DC, I have witnessed men and women sleeping on benches, parks areas and street grates with old cloths covering their bodies and their belongings nearby. Walking by seeing homeless people begging for money and living inside of their built up forts made of wood is like staring at each statistic that proves the increasing level of poverty in the face.
Although, homelessness is better associated with only men and women, it does not compare to the increase of child poverty and homeless single-parent families in DC. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, there are 87%, equaling to 29,142, of children in single-parent family living in poverty. In 2011, there were 1,620 children in homeless families in DC, up to 5.5% from 2010, according to the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Inc.
The thought of imagining children hungry and not having a guaranteed bed to sleep in every night is heartbreaking. But, actually witnessing it when I attended the DC General Hospital homeless shelter was overwhelming. The conditions inside and outside of the shelter were unsanitary, there was much chaos in the hallways and, sadly, many young children with no proper clothing.
With all the downfalls of the shelter, the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project (HCPP), a non-profit organization that provides child development programs offered in several homeless shelters, hosts a weekly program called Teen Night. It provides teenagers with a 2-hour development session filled with fun game playing and developmental exercises on bullying, self-esteem and personal goals. Teen night also provides teenagers with assistance on homework, brings in tutors and inspirational speakers, outlets to various resources and food. This positive program is one of the good outlets at the shelter.
My first impression of the room compared to the tainted white walls within the shelter was excitement. The room had an exciting and child-like atmosphere and it was nice to see the beautiful smiles on each child’s face. With all that they endure in their young lives, it was amazing to see them so happy and full of life. It seemed like dealing with the hardships of living in a shelter, being accustomed to not receiving meals every day, hiding the reality of being homeless and being bullied in school didn’t fazed these children. HCPP’s Teen Night allowed them to finally be happy kids for two hours. I admire them for being very strong children who are able to cope with their tough situations and face adversities at a young age. Their positivity and strength really inspired me and made me more appreciative of how blessed I am.
At the end, I was really taken aback when they were departing because most of the children did not want Teen Night to end. Many of the volunteers stated that this was a reoccurring emotion that the kids felt, which hurt my heart even more. I felt that they were forced to go back to their unstable lifestyles. It touched me to know that Teen Night is maybe the only piece of stability and comfort that these kids received every week. I enjoyed my humbling experience with this visit and have been inspired to contribute more to the state of child poverty and homelessness.